As the doors opened at Club Hood July 18, Mike Engen, education services officer with the Fort Hood Soldier Service Center, said he was happy as hundreds of Soldiers flooded into the facility for the Credentialing Assistance Fair. 

“When I saw that first surge of Soldiers, I had goosebumps – this is outstanding,” Engen said about the successful turnout.

Nearly 1,000 Soldiers attended the CA Fair to find out more information about all the credentials currently covered by credentialing assistance – which now covers more than 1,600 different credentials.

“Probably the best thing that’s happened to the Credentialing Assistance Program so far is, as of June 3, the Army did open up all the credentials currently listed on the COOL website,” Engen said. “That’s 1,684 different certifications.”

The program first launched in September 2018, with Fort Hood selected as the limited user test site, before the program’s Army-wide release in fiscal year 2020. The program began with only around 30 credentials eligible for the assistance program. Engen said they soon realized many Soldiers were not interested in those specific credentials. With the entire database of credentials now eligible, he said more Soldiers have taken an interest.

“We’ve been doing trend analysis during this limited user test,” Engen explained. “By far, the most popular certification programs by both officer and enlisted is project management, as well as human resources.”

CA is essentially a program designed to help Soldiers pay the expense of credentials that will set them up for success when they transition from the Army. Soldiers are allotted $4,000 of tuition assistance and/or credentialing assistance per year. If, for example, a Soldier uses $3,000 toward credentialing, there is $1,000 remaining which can be used for tuition assistance.

The program was established by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey, who realized only 18 percent of Soldiers were using their tuition assistance. By allowing credentialing to also be included within the tuition assistance, Dailey hoped it would entice Soldiers to use the assistance they earn as a Soldier.

During the limited user test, Soldiers serving on active duty at Fort Hood, as well as those serving in the Texas Army National Guard and Army Reserve, will be able to build their skills for their Army and post-Army careers.

Sgt. Maj. Mike Stoddard, a sergeant major of the Army senior fellow with the Department of Labor – Veterans Employment Training Services, told the Sentinel in January that only about 20 percent of employers actually require college degrees.

“What we’re really finding is they’re looking for credentialing that allows them to be stackable and build holistically,” he explained. “When we talk about stackable … if I got get myself a Microsoft IT credential, when I’m done with that, I can then go get a project management credential.”

Engen said when the program is released Army-wide, Soldiers will only be able to earn two credentials during their Army career. The good news is any credentials earned during the limited user test don’t count toward those two. Engen said another bonus of being part of the limited user test is that Soldiers are allowed one free credential during this testing period.

The Soldiers who attended the CA Fair were given the opportunity to meet with dozens of colleges and training partners who are providing the credentials. While it was good news that so many Soldiers showed up for the event, Engen said it’s not the most important thing. He said the key is for the Soldiers to find a good fit between their desired credentialing program and finding a quality training provider that can lead them to that path.

“I’m very close to separating from the service, so I’m looking at every opportunity the Army’s giving me to make something of myself on the outside,” Sgt. 1st Class Reid Carpenter, 3rd Battalion, 351st Aviation Regiment, said. “I found several areas I wasn’t even thinking of – medical coding … administration stuff that was on the peripheral of my mind, but I hadn’t really considered much.”

While Engen was happy with the turnout, he said the numbers don’t really matter as much as the Soldiers finding a training partner that’s going to meet their needs.

“That’s what it’s really about,” he said. “Our Soldiers are asking very informed questions and they’re just doing a very good job of really trying to find the best training provider in their efforts to become an informed consumer.”

The credentialing assistance isn’t just for enlisted personnel. Officers may also participate in the program and if they do so during the limited user test, they will not incur an active duty service obligation.

For those interested in free money for education, the deadline is coming up fast. Soldiers must complete and submit their registration packets by Aug. 15, with coursework beginning before Sept. 30. For additional information or to begin the process, call 254-287-8799 to make an appointment with a counselor at the Soldier Development Center.